Jam with everything...

Trip Start Dec 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  , Selangor,
Thursday, February 25, 2010

I have been here in Malaysia for two months now and it's amazing how some of the things which struck me as so bizarre on first arriving have already become the wallpaper of my everyday life.

Take for example the street vendors who congregate outside the LRT stations and business hubs throughout the city as bleary-eyed commuters shuffle to work every morning. The breakfast fare they offer is very far removed from the greasy bacon bap or healthy bowl of muesli with which you might start the day at home: little curry puffs, fried rice packages wrapped in banana leaves or a paper cone of fried noodles are among the dishes on offer. The accompanying drink comes in a plastic bag with a straw rather than a paper cup and, depending on the drink of choice, rather disconcertingly can sometimes resemble a proudly-flaunted colostomy bag.

Another feature of my morning walk to work are the traffic policemen who man all major junctions at peak times. These white-gloved guardians of smooth traffic flow ignore the foolish red, green and amber whims of the traffic lights they are temporarily replacing. Using instead their fniely-honed instincts and an imperious wave of the hand, they decide when each revving queue of traffic deserves to inch a few metres closer to its destination. One drawback of man replacing machine is that there is no 'pedestrian factor' built into their calculations, meaning I must seize the few fleeting seconds available to dash across each of the three major junctions I need to cross before reaching work.

My relationship with the Malaysian climate has also settled into the 'familiarity breeds contempt' phase. Sadly, this does not mean that I now arrive to face my students fresh-faced and pristine every day. Even the short walk to the monorail station leaves me with damp hair plastered to the back of my neck and I get through a pack of tissues a day, mopping my brow. Still, I earn some good karma points by buying the tissues from a blind vendor who waits unassumingly outside my local station, so the sweat of my brow literally benefits at least one person in Kuala Lumpur.

To my shame I have not yet made any progress in terms of learning Malay. I am good at making excuses for this: the bus station robbery has made me wary of buying anything which is not strictly necessary for survival, at least until my next pay cheque. (Having said this, I have just bought Tom Jones tickets, but I guess you could say this is a necessity for a Welsh girl on the eve of St David's Day.)  Anyway, the simple fact is that I have no real need of it because I work in an international environment, with students from everywhere but Malaysia.

The only word which I've learned is 'jam', which I was told meant watch, but I've subsequently worked out must also mean hour. And when did I stumble across this solitary nugget of linguistic gold? Well, I mistimed my walk home one day and got caught in the almost daily deluge. After one soaking, which left me beyond bedraggled, reduced my students' essays to water-stained scrap paper and dissolved the glue along the spines of all the textbooks in my bag, I have now learned a little patience. When the rain comes, I  do what the locals do and find the nearest shelter to sit it out until Mother Nature has done her damnedest before continuing on my way. On such occasions, as people cluster under bridges or in shopping mall entrances, there is a spirit of camaraderie engendered by life being temporarily put on hold which seems to encourage the normally taciturn Malaysians into conversation. It was under one such bridge that I enjoyed my first free language lesson, delivered by a musclebound guy who works as a bouncer at the Hard Rock Cafe. Thankfully, the rain let up before I had to reciprocate with a free English lesson (I have a living to make out here you know), but I guess if the weather stays the same and I make sure I am not caught out under the same shelter twice, I could painstakingly acquire a rudimentary working knowledge of this language before I leave... God bless the elements!
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